Teals condemn Labor on transparency as Marles faces questions over VIP flights

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Defence Minister Richard Marles will face a Senate vote to reveal his flights on VIP aircraft after weeks of dispute over the $3.6 million cost of the flights, as Labor faces a test on transparency amid criticism from independent MPs.

The Greens and Coalition will move on Tuesday to order the release of government documents that show the dates and costs of every flight as well as their origins and destinations, seeking a return to the standard of disclosure in place under former prime minister John Howard.

Defence Minister Richard Marles was on Monday asked if he had “taken his golf clubs” on any VIP flights.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen

Tasmanian MP Andrew Wilkie united with six teal MPs, who were elected on an integrity platform last election, to express disappointment about the Albanese government’s commitment to transparency and the non-release of key information on climate change and VIP planes.

Coalition defence spokesman Andrew Hastie challenged Marles in question time on Monday by asking whether he had “taken his golf clubs” on any of the government aircraft and if anyone outside his family or staff had travelled with him on the flights.

Marles said representatives of other governments were on some flights, but accused the Coalition of hypocrisy over the questions because their MPs enjoyed the use of the Royal Australian Air Force flights when they were in power.

At issue is the cost revealed in a freedom of information disclosure obtained by NSW Greens senator David Shoebridge on August 17, which revealed a summary of the expenses incurred by the Albanese and Morrison governments since January 2021. The documents show Marles went stretches during which he incurred more domestic travel costs than the prime minister, though his overall spend was less.

Marles sought to turn the tables on Opposition Leader Peter Dutton, by detailing his recent requests to use special purpose aircraft to attend Matildas matches and claiming the Coalition was overly focused on winning the next election to “get back on the planes”.

“Because if the requests from the leader of the opposition to my office is any indication, it has been their singular focus,” Marles said.

Dutton interjected: “I never took my golf clubs on a flight. I suspect you have. Be honest.”

Shoebridge, who is leading the effort to unearth the travel costs, said the Senate showdown represented a “chance to push back against the growing cult of secrecy in Canberra”.

The Coalition confirmed late on Monday that it had lodged a separate motion to demand the information, meaning it was likely the opposition would negotiate with the Greens.

Teal MPs (from left) Kate Chaney, Sophie Scamps, Allegra Spender, Kylea Tink, Zoe Daniel and Monique Ryan.Credit: James Brickwood

Independent MPs Monique Ryan, Sophie Scamps and Zoe Daniel have declared they would be willing to publish their own travel expenses to display their commitment to transparency.

Labor has blamed a Coalition-era IT bungle for a system outage that means politicians’ expenses may not be published from 2022-24, which prompted Ryan, Scamps and Daniel to offer to self-publish theirs.

Another teal MP, Allegra Spender, said it was untenable to stop publishing parliamentarians’ spending of public money due to an IT issue. Referring to Marles’ justification for the non-publication of VIP flight manifests, Spender said: “We can’t simply hide politician travel with no better explanation than security concerns.”

In addition to Marles’ use of private jets, the government has recently faced questions about an unreleased Office of National Intelligence report on climate risks and the state of the freedom of information framework.

Monique Ryan says her Kooyong constituents are now telling her they feel let down by Labor.Credit: Alex Ellinghausen

Ryan said her Kooyong constituents were disappointed with the Morrison government but were now telling her they felt let down by Labor.

“This government has repeatedly concealed information the public deserves to know. It’s undemocratic: millions of Australians voted to restore trust and integrity at the last election and their votes should be respected,” she said.

Another teal MP, Kylea Tink, claimed the government failed to protect whistleblowers and Labor was proving that “when it comes to governing, it’s far easier to call for transparency from opposition than it is to deliver it when given the opportunity”.

Fellow independent MP Kate Chaney said Australians deserved to know about the report on the national security threats posed by global warming, arguing climate action must not be undermined by a lack of transparency about the risks faced.

Daniel said the government’s stance on the report highlighted its lack of transparency, and questioned if the concealment suggested it had little confidence in its ability to meet climate change mitigation targets.

“Keeping voters in the dark is no way to deal with the biggest global threat to our future prosperity,” she said.

Scamps added: “Actions speak louder than words and right now the Albanese government’s lack of transparency is concerning.”

Wilkie, a long-time advocate for open government, said “the current government risks becoming seen as no better than its predecessor when it comes to transparency”.

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